Cristopher Columbus, “Joan Colom” and Jon Skolp

One of the historians I most admire, Luis Ulloa [El predescubrimiento hispano-catalán de América en 1477 – Xristo-Ferens Colom, Fernando el Católico y la Cataluña española, París, 1928, pp. 126-134] attempts   to prove that the first name of the man who discovered America was not Cristóbal (Christopher) but Juan Bautista (John the Baptist). First of all, the Peruvian historian points out that on occasions Columbus signs himself using the name Xristo-Ferens. In Greek means “the anointed” and the Latin word ferens means   “he who carries”,  “the bearer”. Ulloa goes on to say: <<When mentioning this fact, most authors have merely said that Columbus probably signed his name in this way to draw attention to his role as bearer or spreader of the Christian faith in the New World>>.

Ulloa also recalls that the Catalan astronomer and mapmaker Jaume Ferrer de Blanes, in a letter to Columbus from Burgos dated August 5th 1495 says: <<I am sure I am not mistaken when I say that the position you hold, Sir, confers on you the character of God’s apostle and ambassador, ordered by His divine will to make you know His holy name in place truly unknown”. So, encouraged by the words of Jaume Ferrer de Blanes, Luis Ulloa makes so bold to write: <<Indeed, if Columbus named himself and possibly considered himself to be God’s emissary and ambassador, as Ferrer de Blanes believed, 

it is because his name gave rise to this presumption. It was not a case of the name Xristo-Ferens originating from a messianic concept, but indeed quite the contrary: the notion derived from the explorer’s very name>>. And he adds: <<The fact is that Columbus was not called Christopher (from the Italian Cristoforo), as has been believed until now, and as is claimed by those supporting Columbus’s Genovese origin, but John. Xristo-Ferens is no more than a simple equivalent to that name, an accepted form, a way of writing John (the Baptist). This is easy to see>>. But as far as I am concerned it is not quite straightforward.

To err is human, and Luis Ulloa, who could also have been mistaken, has been seized on eagerly by those recent investigators who would support  Christopher Columbus’s Catalan origin, to held  back up their claim of an imaginary explorer by the name Joan Colom, a name which is quite easy to trace, as it is extremely common in the lands which formed the ancient Kingdom of Aragon, including the Principality of Catalonia. But the matter is not as simple as they would have us believe.

On the contrary, the truth is that Columbus was was a devotee of John the Baptist, a fact reflected in the Libro de las Profecías, written by Columbus with the collaboration  of Fray Gaspar Gorricio. It is also true that Columbus gave Boriquen, present-day Puerto Rico, the name of Juan Bautista. However, bearing in mind that Columbus sailed as a corsair with René d’Anjou, who was closely connected to the Order of Saint John the Baptist’s Hospital  of Jerusalem,   whose headquarters at that time were on the island of Rodos  [Lecoy de la Marche, Le roi René, sa vie, son administration, ses travaux artistiques et literaries , d’après les documents inédits des archives de France et d’Italie, Paris, 1875, vol. I, p. 529] I firmly believe that Columbus was a devotee of Saint John the Baptist because he had been closely linked to the Knights of the Order of the Hospital  during the time he was sailing in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean.

Going further into the subject, Luis Ulloa studies the famous initials which make up Columbus’s rather enigmatic signature and, referring to the Y says: <It is quite possible that it stands for Ysabel, which would indicate  Columbus’s real Christian name: John, son of Ysabel and Zechariah. In this way the symbolism based in part on religious premises and in part derived from his name would be complete>>.

Closing the subject of Luis Ulloa, the historian who came to Spain in search of a “Galician Columbus” but instead found one who was Catalan, to the despair of Benito Mussolini and the Italian historians, it is only fair to say that the Columbian researchers of Catalonia and  the Balearic Isles  owe him a great debt of gratitude. However, the theory that the explorer’s Christian name was John and not Christopher, with which I do not at all agree, led Ulloa to confuse a famous Norwegian seaman with the discoverer of America, as we shall see below. An unfortunate mistake.

The problem of Columbus’s religious devotion and the mystery of the initials he used in his signature has also been studied by Alain Milhou [Colón y su mentalidad mesiánica en el ambiente franciscano español, Valladolid 1983, pp. 53-90] who points out that one saint is much in evidence: Saint John the Baptist. Not only does he name the island of Boriquen, now Puerto Rico, island of San Juan Bautista, that he also dedicates a poem to the Prophet, called the “Joys of Saint John the Baptist” in the Libro de las Profecías. As for the meaning of the initials, Alain Milhou suggests that the X stands  

for Xristoforus, the M for Maria and the Y for Yoannes, a clear reference to St. John the Baptist of whom, in Milhou’s opinion, Columbus was a devotee.

There are other interpretations of Columbus’s signature. Simon Wiesenthal [Operación Nuevo Mundo – La misión secreta de Cristóbal Colón, Barcelona, 1976, pp. 120-121] suggests that the supporters of Columbu’s Jewish ancestry take the Y as standing  for Yehovah. In would include myself among such a group, but this does not mean that I agree totally with his conclusions in the case of question. Wiesenthal also says that the Xpo (Xristo) Ferens is only used in letters with the bet-hai sign, written to his son Diego. In his other letters, Wiesenthal tells us, Columbus signs under his initials as The Admiral, presumably so that his son could show the letters to other people.

The  fact is that my esteemed researcher, Simon Wiesenthal, is mistaken. To my knowledge, Christopher Columbus used the signature Xpo Ferens in at least two other occasions: in a “Libramiento a favor de Diego Rodriguez” (order of payment) dated September 7th 1504 and in a “Libramiento    a favor de Rodrigo Viscaino and Francisco Niño”, dated September 8th 1504 [see Documentos Colombinos de la Casa de Alba, Madrid-Sevilla, 1987, pp. 74 and 75].

In short, since there are numerous researchers who have strived to decipher and explain the meaning of the initials in Columbus’s signature apart from Ulloa, Milhou and Wiesenthal, I see no reason why I too should not give my opinion in the subject. Until such a time as someone offers proof to the contrary,  X M Y might  very well stand for Xristopher Mariner Yviça. That is to say: Christopher seaman of Ibiza.

The Norwegian Jon Skolp (Johannes Scolvus) and Christopher Columbus

It is unnecessary to give many details about the voyage which Columbus made to Iceland in 1477,  the ”Columbus’s Norwegian Connection”, but it should be remembered and I shall take this opportunity to present some new facts which I have only recently came across. The Norwegian historian J. Kr. Tornöe [Columbus in the Artic? And the Vineland literature, Oslo, 1965, pp. 57-68] tells us that King Erik of Denmark was married to a cousin of prince  Henry the Navigator of Portugal and that thanks to his marriage, the two countries cooperated in the search for a route to the Far East via the North Atlantic. The Portuguese king died in 1460 without having been able to carry out his policies of maritime expansion, but his work was continued by Alfonso V of Portugal and King Christian I of Scandinavia. Together they planned the Pining-Porhost expedition in about 1470-1473, though nothing was known of this voyage until 1909 when Dr. Louis Bobé found a letter written to Carsten Grip, mayor of Kiel, to King Christian II, in which he states that the Pining-Porhost expedition was mounted at the request of the king of Portugal. It appears that the voyage towards Greenland and the Artic began  in about 1470/1471 and one the members of the expedition was the Portuguese seaman Joao Vaz-Corte Real, the father of three sons who in their day also became explorers. The proof of this is that Sofus Larsen has come across his name in old maps of the land of Labrador. And since Joao Vaz-Corte Real Was in Portugal during the autumn of 1473, we can  only deduce that the voyage of exploration to which I refer took place between 1470 and 1473.

The voyage which Jon Skolp made to Iceland and Greenland, which began towards the end of 1476, and in which Christopher Columbus took part, as I have previously mentioned, was a different voyage altogether. In a letter addressed to the king of Portugal by Martin Behaim, dated July 14th 1493, we can read that the Duke of Moscow had discovered the island of Greenland some years previously. This can only refer to Jon Skolp (latinised to Johannes Scolvus) and his 1476 expedition, since documents written in Latin he is referred to as Johannes  Scolvus  “polonus” instead ”pilotus” (pilot). Skolp would therefore be the Pole and Greenland would belong to Russia, all because of the mistake of writing Polish instead of pilot, a  fact that was not noticed by Behaim at that time. But it is highly significant that in 1493 there was a large Norwegian colony in Greenland and it was there that Skolp was based.

The fact is that J. Kr. Tornöe has documented two Skolp brothers: Simon and Jon, married to the daughters of king Harald Gille, a family living near Halkjelsvisk Volda, a few miles to the north of the Stad peninsula, from where ships bound for Faeroe islands, Iceland and Greenland used to sail. It is, therefore, Jon Skolp who led the 1476 expedition and it is quite clear that he was Scandinavian and not Russian.

I would also like to point out that in a document written in English and published by Nansen  in 1575 [In Northern mists, vol. II, p. 130] we read: <<In the north side of this passage, Jon Scolus (Scolvus) a pilot of Denmark, was in the year 1476>>.  This would come to serve a confirmation of what I have already said: there was a Danish or a Norwegian pilot and it does not really matter which; they had the same king and we need give the matter no further consideration.

Furthermore, on Gemma Frisius and Gerhard Mercator’s 1537 globe of the world, we can also see the “Fretum trium fratrum” strait, which Johannes Scolvus crossed in 1476. There are other sources which mention Johannes Skolp’s voyage and they all agree on the fact that it took place in 1476 and there is no doubt that Christopher Columbus took part in the expedition. So therefore, Luis Ulloa must have been mistaken: Jon Skolp or Johannes Scolvus was a Scandinavian seaman, who was extremely well documented and can in no way be confused with Christopher Columbus. And there the matter rests.

Finally, lets us see what Hernando Columbus wrote about his father in his Historia del Almirante [in Historia 16, Luis Arranz’s edition, Madrid, 1984, p. 49]: <<… his Christian name  being Christopher, he was to be seen as genuine, that is of Christ, and the one who had to be sent for the good of this people>>. And no more need be said.

As Edward H. Carr says in his book What is History? the so-called basic facts which are the same for all historians, would seem to belong to the category of raw materials to be elaborated on by the historians rather than to history itself. And the same eminent historian goes on to say: <<It used to be said that facts speak for themselves. This is quite patently untrue. Facts only speaks when the historian calls on them to do so: it is he who decides which facts should be used, and in which order and context this should be done. Unless I am very much mistaken –he says- it was one of the Pirandellos’s characters  who said that a fact is like a sack: it only stands up when we put something in it>>. This is what happens to many Columbian researchers: they put nothing original, carefully weighed or scientifically examined into the sack.

nitoverdera@arrakis.es